BUSKING IN NYC: A Definitive Guide


Busking is a tradition as old as music itself. Another arm in a musician’s public performance arsenal, busking is at once a fun pastime and an opportunity to be heard by passersby on your own terms.

All around NYC you can hear music in the air. In fact, some might argue we have some of the best streetside performances ever seen, whether in the subway system, in Central Park, or buried deep in one of the city’s boroughs.

But with any life performance comes special considerations. Do you need a permit? What do you do with money security? What are the best times to play?

We’ve answered these questions and more for when you’re thinking of taking your music to the streets. If you’re thinking of busking, comment below about where you’ll be!

Permits

In NYC, permits are required for a few types of performances. You can check out the entire legal guide here. Here are the highlights of these municipal laws:

  • If you need a sound device (amps, speakers, stereo, etc.) you will need a permit
  • If you perform in or around a park, you will need a permit
  • Certain areas, like the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, require permits

For completely acoustic shows, permits are only required for certain areas. Permit prices are based on daily rates, and the Music Under New York (MUSIC) organization helps to schedule and position buskers in the subway system.

Money

Gone are the days when everybody has cash on hand. One thing you’ll see around the city are performers who allow alternative forms of payment.

Whether it’s Venmo, CashApp, PayPal, or some of the other money transfer services, it’s well-advised to utilize these resources.

It’s also important to have clearly displayed in your setup how to do so. But, don’t forget the bucket!

Positioning

You will want to make sure you’re not in too close of a proximity to someone else while busking. This is important because, as your entire business is based on passersby, you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.

While paying your proper respect to other musicians, you will also be setting yourself up to be noticed more easily. Imagine you’re just sitting there with an acoustic guitar, and someone else with a full drum-set is just steps away from you. You run the risk of being drowned out and ignored.

Practice

Treat busking like it’s any other performance. You want to be well-practiced, because in most cases people will only dish out the dollars if they are truly impressed. You’re in competition with every other thought they have as they navigate the city, so you need to make a strong impression.

Albeit a more rare occurrence, you could be discovered either by a booking agent or someone who works in the record industry. Every second in performance counts, and busking is no different.

Keep It Cool

Make sure to stay in the moment when you are playing. Any breaks in your sound could result in that one person who is willing to pay to completely ignore you. You also don’t want to make too big of a deal when people do decide to pay you—approaching your stage to drop a dollar is for many stepping out of their comfort zone. Keep focus, maybe give an affirming nod, and stay on the path.

If you take requests live, make sure to be prepared for any and all kinds of requests. Not only is this important in terms of repertoire—you don’t want to offend someone if they give you a suggestion that you’re not really into. If you take requests, you are offering yourself up to the world!

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